County mandates masks in public
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors, in a 3-2 vote July 20, mandated the wearing of face masks in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Supervisors Ronnie Joe Bennett and Keith Taylor voted against the move, preferring language that would suggest or recommend face masks in situations where social distancing is not possible.
District 1 supervisor Charles Terry opened the discussion, saying about $70 million has been allocated to control the pandemic in the state. He said the Mississippi Department of Health emphasizes that health care units are being overwhelmed with cases.
“Question. Should the courthouse stay open or be closed, or stay open and require masks?” he asked.
Terry cited an executive order by Gov. Tate Reeves mandating masks in 13 counties that are considered hotspots, including neighboring DeSoto County. Ten more counties were added to the Safe Return orders Monday, July 20, because of a rash of in new cases in Mississippi.
Those counties, under mandated wearing of face masks in public, include Bolivar, Covington, Forrest, Humphreys, Panola, Sharkey, Simpson, Tallahatchie, Tate and Walthall counties now added to the original 13 Claiborne, Desoto, Grenada, Harrison, Hinds, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Quitman, Rankin, Sunflower, Washington and Wayne counties.
Over the weekend Reeves added six more counties as hotspots Calhoun, Holmes, Lamar, Montgomery, Winston and Yalobusha.
“Question. The race track?” Terry said.
He voiced concern that the race track south of Holly Springs may be attracting people to the county from distant places who have been exposed to COVID-19 and may spread it here.
“Can we ask MEMA (the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) for help with it?” he asked.
Terry said some health care providers have asked what the county is doing to minimize spreading of COVID-19. He said he told them he does not believe Marshall County can fully enforce such an emergency declaration.
“I think if our cases continue to rise, businesses are not going to like to close again,” Terry said.
“We need to do something proactive. I want to appeal to young people to start maskwearing as a fashion statement. Maybe older people would join in.”
With that discussion Terry made the motion to order a county-wide face mask emergency declaration.
District 3 supervisor Keith Taylor said he is not against face masks but he cannot wear one himself. He said he cannot breath in a mask, and it is a personal issue with some people who feel smothered in one.
“My thought about masks, you see us with a mask on, it says we care about each other,” Taylor said.
“It’s for when you can’t keep your social distance,” Terry explained.
“If we are mandating, what is the penalty?” Taylor asked.
Terry said the point is not to make arrests or issue tickets.
“It is just something saying this board is moving forward on it,” he said.
“I agree 100 percent,” said District 4 supervisor George Zinn III who always wears a face mask during board meetings and at his business. “I think it is something that is catching on and will cover the whole county.”
Terry compared the number of cases by population and said if Marshall County had the same infection rate as DeSoto County then every household would have a case. The population of Marshall County is 40,000. DeSoto County’s population was 184,945 in 2019.
With that discussion, a vote on mandatory face masks in public passed by a 3-2 vote.
Terry added, “We can’t enforce it. We are just saying we as a board can put this in place. If you can maintain social distance, you don’t need a mask.”
The order requires all citizens wear a face covering in public places with the following exceptions:
• persons with medical conditions who have trouble breathing or are incapacitated;
• for communicating with hearing impaired lip readers;
• while eating, drinking;
• when required for security reasons (for example, in banks and financial institutions);
• exercising and sports;
• speeches, presentations, or performances;
• in church or while engaging in religious worship;
• children under the age of 6 are not required to wear face coverings.
The order is in effect at least until Monday, Aug. 3 at 8 a.m., which is when the board of supervisors will meet again. They plan to revisit the order then and possibly extend it. Zinn continued to press the race track issue. “I think we should close the race track down. They are bringing in people from all over. We have shut down the community centers,” he said. “I think we need to reach out to MEMA to try to curtail it.” Board attorney Kent Smith entered the discussion saying that Gov. Tate Reeves’ emergency order restricts participants at outdoor events to 20.
“You can’t enforce it, short of the governor sending the National Guard,” said county administrator Larry Hall.
Terry clarified that Zinn only wanted to request information from MEMA.
Chancery clerk Chuck Thomas remarked that if the county regulates the race track, it has to regulate other outdoor events/activities.
“You go after one, you have to go after them all,” he said.
Zoning director Ken Jones, who joined the meeting late, explained that most sports are holding events without spectators. The event is only for people competing in the event, he said.
Terry then asked for a motion to get clarification from MEMA and the motion passed.